When you’re raising a child with special needs, it’s easy for things to get off-balance. The child and his medical and special education issues can overwhelm your time and attention. Often families are torn apart because of these inequities. Spouses can feel forgotten, and siblings feel neglected and jealous. If the focus on your special needs child is so all-consuming that your family fades in the background, you’re doing your child a disservice. His or her greatest chance for happiness and success depends in many ways upon the strength and stability of the family environment at home.
Here are some things you can do to keep your family scales in balance:
- Have a proper perspective. Although your special needs child may require extra assistance and adaptations, he or she should not be considered the center of the family. He or she is a part of the family, with individual needs just like everyone else. Your spouse and other children have very important requirements and desires that cannot be overlooked.
- Have weekly dates with your spouse. You and your spouse should have regular time alone, free from children. Take turns planning a fun and relaxing activity. Schedule a reliable Friday or Saturday night babysitter so that you stick to these dates. Your marriage is the foundation of the family, and needs nurturing and protection. For information about finding babysitters, click here.
- Calendar individual time with children. Post a calendar somewhere easily visible in the house. Depending on the size and dynamics of your family, schedule individual time with each child in the family, free from the intrusion of other siblings. It doesn’t matter whether the activity is shooting hoops on a basketball court, going out to dinner, or eating peanut butter sandwiches in the park. The point is to make individual time to talk, share feelings, discuss goals, and have fun. If the time is calendared, children who are jealous of the time you spend with your special needs child will at least be able to visibly see their “time” coming and look forward to it. DO NOT schedule time and then back out of it!
- Have weekly family meetings. Once a week, have a meeting where all family members are present, including your special needs child. Set family goals, plan family trips, discuss feelings, problems, and concerns. Make the time positive; announce and applaud even the smallest milestones of EVERY member of the family. “Michael is learning to read!” “Stacey got an A on her geometry test!” Celebrate achievements as a family.
- Make family chores and responsibilities as equitable as possible. Your special needs child should have responsibilities around the house, just like everyone else. This may require some creativity to find assignments she can do, but doing that is very important. You don’t want your other children to feel like second-class servants whose disabled sibling is the princess of the family. And your special needs child needs to feel productive and capable. Chores are also good teaching tools, employing gross and fine motor skills, teaching time, responsibility, and self-help.
How am I going to find all this time?
Making time for family might seem like a challenge, but if you make it a priority, you’ll be surprised what you can accomplish. Putting your family first is a vital step in giving your special needs child the best possible prognosis.
Kristyn Crow is the author of this blog. Visit her website by clicking here.